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Battle lines need not be drawn over I75, rail plan

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Battle lines need not be drawn over I-75, rail plans

Web-posted Mar 9, 2004


The recent guest opinion by Deputy County Executive Kenneth Rogers regarding the proposed Interstate 75 expansion and rail mass transit needs to be clarified.

It is unfortunate that a contest has developed between the I-75 expansion and some form of mass transit. Our region needs to assess whether its transportation future should continue to be all highway-based or whether a mix of options makes more sense. The region should also be given the real facts behind investment costs of the I-75 expansion and the mass transit proposals.

For the I-75 expansion to attain its goal of cutting commute time between Pontiac and Detroit by 90 seconds - that's right, only 90 seconds - the region will pay $60 million a mile for the work, endure years of construction detours and end up with more highly concentrated air pollutants in the nearby neighborhoods.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Oakland County government think it's a worthwhile price for us all to pay in order to make it easier for new outer suburbs to grow and allow the ring of stagnation in established suburbs to follow closely behind in growth.

Two different rail mass transit plans have been discussed in the region. These were presented as the same project in Rogers' column.

East of Woodward Avenue is the Canadian National Railways line, which for more than 50 years hosted a commuter train service between Pontiac and Detroit. With the building of I-75 and the employment shift from downtown Detroit, the service was allowed to wither and die.

The rail line is used today for freight and Amtrak passenger rail service to and from Chicago. An MDOT study showed that commuter train service could be restarted for less than $5 million per mile, but only the nonprofit group Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is promoting it today. MDOT certainly is not.

The second rail mass transit plan being discussed is a return of modern streetcar-type service - also known as light rail - on Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and Royal Oak and Birmingham. This is a proposal put forth by the nonprofit group Transportation Riders United.

The concept was studied recently by MDOT, and the conclusion was that it is viable but not a replacement for the I-75 expansion. The cost of this plan is more expensive than the commuter rail, but the light-rail plan would serve a different purpose and customer base. It would be less than half the per-mile cost of the I-75 expansion, however.

Because of the nearly complete reliance on roads in this region for transportation, the I-75 expansion project brings out the issue of how we spend our taxpayer money on transportation. The region needs to diversify our transportation options. Rail mass transit projects are funded from separate federal sources than highway expansions. It is not an either-or situation entirely. TheI-75 expansion and the two rail plans should be looked at for their potential to serve the transportation system for metro Detroit, not as battling alternatives.

(Oakland County resident Michael Whims is chairman of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers and on the Board of Directors of Transportation Riders United.)


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